Things are about to get very interesting!
Assuming I am correct in part one of this series, the Oakland Raiders will enter the second quarter of the season at 4-0. This would be a good thing for the Raiders as the first four-game stretch might be the easiest stretch they have. Let's see how the next four play out.
Week Five: The San Diego Chargers
The first divisional test for the Raiders is in The Black Hole, which is good. Unfortunately this early test doesn't come against the Chiefs or Broncos, but against the most recent Kings of the AFC West mountain, the San Diego Chargers.
There is no doubt that the Chargers are one of the best passing offenses in the league. Pro Bowl quarterback Phillip Rivers throwing to one of the most underrated wide receivers in the game, Vincent Jackson, makes the Chargers a tough match up for any team. The Raiders are no exception.
Oakland's secondary must play disciplined, not bite on double moves, or allow Jackson or Legadu Naanee to get behind them. Putting a lot of pressure on Rivers will go a long way to prevent that. If the Raiders can get Rivers on the ground early and often, their chances of winning are greatly increased.
What killed the Raiders the last time they played the Chargers was paying too much attention to Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson. That allowed Darren Sproles to work himself wide open over the short middle. Rivers exploited that and "dinked and dunked" his way to first downs and ran the clock out late in the game.
If the Raiders expect to win, they absolutely must control the clock with Michael Bush and the running game; passing only when necessary.
The Chargers have a good pass rush and secondary, so punishing the middle of their front seven should bring the safeties into the box, then Jason Campbell can exploit them with the deep play action pass.
I might be alone on this, but I feel like the Raiders are just a bit too young to use the home field advantage and beat the Chargers in this, their first meeting.
Projection: Raiders-13 Chargers-20
Week Six: At The San Francisco 49ers
Almost a home game, but not quite. The Raiders will be sleeping in their own beds and won't have jet lag when the sixth game of the season starts. Both are conducive to winning on the road, but playing a much improved 49ers will not be easy at all.
Mike Singeltary has the 49ers playing well and believing in one another. When you can roll out the best running back on the west coast, Frank Gore, and back him up with arguably the best middle linebacker to enter the league since Ray Lewis in Patrick Willis, it's easy to get players to buy in.
Taking that in to account, the 49ers fate lies squarely on the shoulders of quarterback Alex Smith. If he can over come the "bust" status he's been saddled with and play like the first overall pick he is, San Francisco will be hard to beat. Smith has a couple of great security blankets in the aforementioned Gore, and tight end Vernon Davis.
Controlling these two men will be of the utmost importance if the Raiders are to win this game.
Scoring points will not be an easy task either. The 49ers are very stout in all facets of the defense. They rush the passer well, stop the run well, and can create turnovers in the secondary.
Jason Campbell has to be extra careful when passing and the running backs have to cover the ball when being tackled. The Raider's receivers should concentrate more on ball security than in fighting for extra yards.
I hate to say this, but I'm not liking the Raiders chances against their rivals from across the bay.
Projection: Raiders-13 49ers-23
Week Seven: At The Denver Broncos.
This is a game the Raiders must win to be taken seriously in the AFC west. These teams split their two games last year, but something tells me this won't happen in 2010.
The Broncos did not get much better in the offseason. They lost the most productive wide receiver in the league over that last three seasons, Brandon Marshall. They are attempting to replace Marshall's production with rookie Demaryius Thomas. Thomas is a good rookie, but he's no Brandon Marshall. Controlling the Broncos passing attack shouldn't be a problem for the Raider's good secondary.
Adding Jamal Williams to the Broncos front seven was a great move by head coach Josh McDaniels, but they didn't do much to improve their aging secondary. Safety Brian Dawkins, cornerback Champ Bailey, and cornerback Andre Goodman are all over 30 and not getting any younger. I can see Louis Murphy, Chaz Schilens, and a resurgent Darius Heyward-Bey running the Denver secondary ragged all day long.
The Raider rushing attack may suffer a bit in this game due in part to the addition of Jamal Williams and the very good linebacking corps of the Broncos. The good news is that the running game doesn't have to be spectacular to beat the Broncos.
It only has to be effective enough to establish the play action pass so that Jason Campbell and the young Raiders receivers can eat up yards and make big plays against the aging Broncos secondary.
Ultimately, the Raiders improved a lot over the offseason and the Broncos didn't. It's that simple. This leads me to believing the Raiders will take care of business in week seven.
Projection: Raiders-24 Broncos-13
Week Eight: The Seattle Seahawks.
The rekindling of this old AFC west rivalry will be fun for Raider fans to watch. The Seahawks are in the process of rebuilding but still have a lot of holes.
Matt Hasselbeck is aging and fragile. He has a few nice offensive weapons in T.J. Houshmandzadeh, tight end John Carlson, and Norte Dame rookie Golden Tate. They've also added Leon Washington, who is likely to take over as the primary running back, assuming he is at full strength following his season ending injury.
All that said, stopping the Seahawks rushing attack and putting pressure on Hasselbeck will lead to a Raider victory.
Richard Seymour is bound to show rookie left tackle Russell Okung what a real NFL defensive end looks like! I expect Hasselbeck to be running for his life most of the day because, along with Seymour, Lamarr Houston matches up well against right tackle Sean Locklear. Locklear struggles against speed rushers, and Houston is that...but with the ability to bull rush too.
Houston and Seymour are going to terrorize the quarterback and ball carriers of the Seahawks every time they have the ball!
Jason Campbell has an opportunity to make a big statement in this game. Seattle is weak in the pass rush department. Patrick Kerney is retired and Darryl Tapp is in Philadelphia. This leaves Chris Clemmons as the only experienced pass rusher they have. This also means the tight ends can get into the pattern, but Campbell will still have time to survey the field and find open receivers.
The Seahawks secondary is talented, but they have a tendency to make mental errors and give up big plays. Marcus Trufant is a stud and is sure to cover whoever he's responsible for; Kelly Jennings on the other hand, gets burned from time to time. Hue Jackson can create match problems that will result in a lot of big plays.
Assuming the pass rush, the run defense, and pass offense work like I described, things will open up for Michael Bush and Darren McFadden to control the clock with the rushing attack to end the game.
The renewal of this rivalry will end with the Raiders heading home with a 6-2 record.
Projection: Raiders-28 Seahawks-13
I realize as a Raider fan myself, I'm being a little overly optimistic. However, that doesn't make me wrong! What do you think Raider fans? Am I wrong? Let me hear your thoughts!
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